Yoga and Ayurveda

 

 

Vata is the carrier, and the colon is its main site in the disease process. When Vata accumulates, it spreads to the blood, bones and other parts of the body. Vata acts primarily through the nervous system through which it flows like an electric current. Yoga therapy can help to calm, center and relax the body. You can do this through a slow asana practice, and keep the breath deep with emphasis on the inhalation. Pitta pushes or provokes, and the small intestine is its main site in the disease process, in which excess acids or toxic pitta accumulates and spreads through the blood to different parts of the body. Pitta acts primarily through the digestive system and the blood as the body’s primary thermogenic power. Yoga therapy can help to chill and relax the body. You can do this by surrendering to your asana practice and keeping the breath relaxed and exhaling through the mouth to relieve heat as needed. Kapha strengthens or resist, and the stomach is its main site in the disease process in which excess mucus accumulates and spread through the blood and lymph to different parts of the body. Kapha primarily acts through the plasma or lymphatic system as underlying nutrient solution making up the bulk of the body and providing nourishment to all the tissues. Yoga therapy can help to lighten the body and movement. You can do this through an active vinyasa practice, taking deep breaths with an intention for your overall practice to be with effort.

Introduction

Ayurvedic medicine practiced as an ancient healing system used in India and worldwide. The theory of Ayurveda is based on balancing the individual’s three constitutional doshas (i.e., Pitta, Vata, Kapha). Both intrinsic and extrinsic factors are considered such as indiscriminate diet, undesirable habits, not observing rules of healthy living, seasonal abnormalities, lack of movement, misuse of body, mind, and spirit can cause disease. Typically in an Ayurvedic session, there is a diagnosis based on a comprehensive history, detailed physical examination, measurement of vital signs including pulse, and relevant laboratory tests. (Qureshi, 2013)

Yoga Therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress towards improved health and welling through the application of the teachings and practices of yoga according to IAYT (International Association of Yoga Therapists). A yoga therapist uses tools such as asana/postures, adjustments to movement, pranayama/breath work, meditation, lifestyle and Yama and Niyama to guide the experience. A yoga therapist does not diagnose, medicate, give nutritional advice, massage or do psychotherapy. The process involves an intake, assessment, evaluation, plan and review and uses the Panchamaya Kosha Model of healing which is an ancient model of the human system (i.e., Anamaya Kosha, Pranamaya Kosha, Manomaya Kosha, Vijnanamaya Kosha, Anadamaya Kosha).

Both Yoga and Ayurveda reflect the Vedic idea that we must live according to our unique nature and its particular capacities.

 Characteristics of Dosha

Dosha means “fault, impurity or mistake” which is a bit hard to understand in a yoga and Ayurveda context, therefore, we may think of dosha as an organization. It is important to comprehend that all three doshas are present in everybody and everything. When the doshas are in balance they maintain a harmonious psychophysiology as when they are imbalanced they pollute the bodily tissues which lead to disease. The three doshas Pitta, Vata, Kapha bind the five elements into flesh. Vata is space and air; Pitta is fire and water, Kapha is water and Earth. Each of these doshas has their attributes.

Vata means a vehicle to carry or move. Vata regulates movement from the activity of how many thoughts we have to the efficiency of how our food moves through our digestive track.  Vata tends to have few or no children, delicate in health, irregular appetite and thirst. A vata behavior may be easily excited, easily alert and quick to act without thinking. They have great imaginations, daydream, tend to love someone out of fear of loneliness, do not like sitting idle, seek constant action, make good money, have difficulty saving, faith is flexible, and are ready for a change. (Lad, 2002) When Vata is in a sattvic state, the individual is creative, open-minded, communicates well, is a source of constant inspiration and possess a strong sense of human unity. When Vata is in a rajasic state the individual is very active and running to achieve various goals that change continually, they are restless, easily distracted, talkative, superficial and disruptive. When Vata is in a tamasic state the individual is fearful, goes against the order, easily addicted to things, can be suicidal and cannot be trusted. (Frawley, 1999)

Pitta means heat and to be austere.  Pitta usually has strong appetites and like cold drinks and sweets. Pitta is usually disciplined, leaders, confident, wisdom, like to learn, and can concentrate. At times they are judgmental, critical, and perfectionistic. They like noble professions; make large amounts of money, like expensive items, lower sex drive, moderate strength, medium life span and material wealth. (Lad, 2002) When Pitta is in a sattvic state, the individual shines like the sun, disciplined, discriminating in their thinking and always consider the viewpoint of others, friendly, courageous, natural leaders with strong wills for growth and development. When Pitta is in a rajasic state the individual aims at achievement no matter the means, promote themselves and their agendas, critical, controlling, prone to anger and intolerance and reckless. When Pitta is in a tamasic state the individual is destructive, violent, resentful and hostile in life and takes it out on everyone around them, they do not respect social laws or feelings of others and can be psychopathic.  (Frawley, 1999)

Kapha means water.  Kapha has a steady appetite and thirst with a slow digestion and metabolism which result in weight gain which is hard for them to shed. They like to eat, sit, do nothing and sleep for extended periods of time. They have deep, stable faith, love, compassion, calm, and steady mind. They have good memories, deep melodious voices and monotonous patterns of speech. They make money and tend to save money. (Lad, 2002) When Kapha is in a sattvic state the individual is loving, devoted, faithful, they have a comforting presence, patient, a balance of mind, loyal, forgiving and supportive. When Kapha is in a rajasic state, the individual is dominating, controlling, greedy, materialistic, accumulates wealth and possessions until they are overwhelmed by them. When Kapha is in a tamasic state, the person has different addictions, depressed, incapable of self-reflection, blame, trample over others and is usually overweight and full of toxins. (Frawley, 1999)

How Imbalances Present for each Dosha

Vata attributes are dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile, clear, astringent taste and brownish/blackish colors. Vata imbalances produce fear, anxiety and abnormal movements, however, when in balance it promotes joy, happiness, creativity and flexibility. Vata governs breathing, blinking, muscle, sneezing, elimination, and tissue movement, the pulsation of the heart and all changes in the cytoplasm and cell membranes. (Lad, 2002)

 Kapha attributes are thick, slow/dull, cold, oily, liquid, slimy/smooth, dense, soft, static, sticky/cloudy, hard, gross and a sweet and salty taste, white in color. Kapha imbalances produce attachment, greed, passiveness, apathy, laziness and congestive disorders, however, when in balance it promotes love, strength, peace, longevity, memory retention, calmness, and forgiveness. Kapha forms the body’s structure, organs, provides the cohesion that holds the cells together and supplies the water for all bodily parts and systems; it lubricates joints, moisturizes the skin and maintains immunity. (Lad, 2002)

 Pitta attributes are: hot, sharp, light, liquid, spreading, mobile, oily and sour, pungent and bitter to taste. Pitta imbalances produce anger, hatred, jealousy, and inflammatory disorders; however, when in balance it promotes understanding and intelligence. Pitta governs digestion, vitality, absorption, assimilation, nutrition, metabolism, and body temperature. (Lad, 2002)

 Plan of Care for each Dosha

In teaching a vata individual it is best to use words like calm, slow, steady, grounding, strengthening, and consistent. The goal of a yoga practice would be the removal of stiffness from the joints, steadiness of the muscles, feeling of groundedness, calm and support. If you chose to do sun salutations with this individual, they should be done slowly and consciously.  Pranayama techniques like right nostril breathing, retention after the inhalation and Nadi Shodhana (combination of heating and cooling) are beneficial for this dosha.

The sequence of vata reducing asana practice is designed to build core strength while maintaining their flexibility. Some things to consider when teaching a vata sequence is to do it in the quiet, to hold the standing, sitting, forward bends and twists longer than the client is inclined to do as this longer hold will be a challenge and a reward for an individual in the long run. Surya Namaskar (sun salutations) holding each pose for a breath before moving on, to practicing being conscious of the movement. Adho Mukha Svanasana (or Wall Push), Tadasana (Mountain), Utkatasna (Chair), Trikonasana (Triangle), Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1), Parsvottanasana (Pyramid), Padangushthasana (Gorilla), Navasna (Boat), Prep for Sirsasana (Dolphin), Child’s pose, Legs-Up-the-Wall, Locust, Dandasana (Staff), Pashimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold), and Marichyasana III (Seated Spinal Twist).  (Kozak, 2001) Pala Mudra helps with anxiety relief and can be paired with an affirmation of “At peace within my inner being, I experience a greater sense of security.” and can be held for a couple of breaths or as long as fifteen minutes. (LePage, 2014)

For meditation, corpse poses with knees, ankles, wrists supported, eye pillow, neck roll, folded blanket around the top of the head and covering the ears, and a blanket to cover the whole body. You may even consider a sandbag on the belly. Long mediations for at least twenty minutes are needed to calm the fear and anxiety that is their inherent tendency.  Meditation can help them sleep, alleviate nervous digestion, strengthen their immune system. Mantra and visualizations work well for them.  Visualizations such as earth, water, mountain, ocean, lotus, rose, the light of the sun at dawn can help as well as color therapy of gold and saffron will contribute to clear their mental field. Mantras of RAM, SHRIM, HRIM are ideal for them to use throughout the day if they find themselves losing balance to worry and anxiety. Devotional meditations that a vata might resonate with are Vishnu as the avatar and savior of Rama, Ganesha as grounding, Hanuman power of prana and represents higher vata characteristics. Vata’s are learning to stabilize their inner nature so that the every changing external world does not un-ground them. (Frawley, 1999)

In teaching a pitta individual, it is best to use words like cooling, relaxing, surrendering, forgiving, gentle and diffusive. The goal of a yoga practice would be to feel the coolness, calm, openness, patience, tolerance; reduction of inflammation, and acidity. Rather than doing the sun salutation, the Moon Salutation (Chadra Namaskar) works better for them. Pranayama techniques like shitali and sitkari and left nostril breathing decrease pitta.

The sequence of asana is for pitta reducing and practiced in an effort with ease that is non-goal oriented. Focus on the breath monitoring the level of work intensity. Forward folds and twists are effective in reducing and bringing up pitta. If you are reducing pitta, hold the postures for extended periods of time. Chandra Namaskar (Moon salutations) done at 50-60% of their effort level works well for them, and they will still be working harder than most. Cat Stretch, Locust, Adho Mukha Svanasana, Low Lunge, Padottanasna, (Standing Straddle fFold), Legs up Wall with Pelvis lifted, Child’s pose, Supta Padagusthasna (Hand to Big Toe), Paschimottansana (Seated Forward Fold), SupineTtwist. (Kozak, 2001) Padma Mudra helps to reduce anger and find unconditional love and used with the affirmation of “nurturing the garden of my heart allows for the blossoming of unconditional love.” and can be done at any time for a couple of breaths up to fifteen-minute practice. (LePage, 2014)

 Savasana for fifteen-twenty minutes with a bolster under the knees, wrist, neck and eye pillow and using a strap at the thighs will help release anger, aggression and let go of their willful control approach to life. For meditation helps them concentrate their energy in a positive way toward an inner goal, however, ensure that they do not turn it into another form of achievement. Focus on expanding the mind and heart to reveal truth like waves move across the lake in the moonlight. Use non-fiery images like a mountain forest, lake, ocean, rain clouds, deep blue skies, the moon, and stars. For color therapy use the colors such as white, dark blue or emerald green. Mantras such as SHAM, SHRIM, OM are helpful throughout the day if anger arises for them. Forgiveness prayers and Meta can help them find peace and happiness for themselves and for those that they have harmed from their forceful actions. For devotional practices Lakshmi born of the ocean, Vishnu and Shiva in their forms of water and space, and God. Meditations that focus on the infinite space beyond the limitations of their critical mind is the art of developing discrimination for them. (Frawley, 1999)

In teaching a kapha individual it is best to use words like stimulating, moving, warming, lightning, energizing, and releasing. The goal of a yoga practice would be to normalize the body weight, reduction of congestion, removal of excess fat, mucus, and water from the body, a greater sense of detachment. Sun Salutations can be active and flow.  Pranayama techniques like Bhastrika and Kapalabhati decrease kapha in the body.

The following sequence is to help reduce Kapha.  Their practice should be energetic with a goal to first strengthen shoulders, arms, and legs so they may master the art of inversions. Hold Forward Folds shorter as this can increase kapha.  Surya Namaskar should be strong considering doing seven repetitions to bring up their heart rate. Adho Mukha Savasana (Downward Dog), Tadasana (Mountain), Vrksana (Tree), Trikonasana (Triangle), Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1), Virabhadrasana II (Warrior 2), Prep for Sirsasana (Dolphin), Sarvangasana I (shoulder stand at the wall), Locus, Niralamba Bhujangasana III (Cobra), Navasana (Boat), Supine Spinal Twist. (Kozak, 2001)  Svadhisthana Mudra is helpful with addictions and can bring in self-nourishment qualities. It can pair with an affirmation such as “completely at home at the center of my being, I experience deep nourishment and inner healing.” and can be done for a couple of breaths up to fifteen-minute practice. (LePage 2014)

Savasana should be five to fifteen minutes on the ground in corpse pose to help them release possessiveness and heaviness into a space of consciousness of true happiness and abundance. Meditation for a kapha may take a more disciplined approach as they are most likely to fall asleep, therefore doing more active meditations that include mantra, pranayama and meditation may work better for them. Focus on images that increase the fire, air and either elements like sun, wind moving through trees, an expanse of clear blue sky in colors like gold, blue and orange. Mantras of OM, HUM, AIM are good for stimulating energy for them. For a devotional practice, they may connect with Shiva or the Kali to stimulate them. Devotion should not become a form of self-indulgence but the purity of heart and mind. (Frawley, 1999)

 Discussion

The Vedas relate to an important practice of yoga and Ayurveda, which reflect an approach that comprehends all aspects of life. Yoga is the application of Vedic wisdom for self-realization. Yoga provides the means for purification of the mind (Chitta-shuddhi) to enable us to gain self-realization through Vedanta (self-knowledge).  Ayurveda is a Vedic method for healing and right living.  Ayurveda affords us purification of the body (deha-shuddhi) for optimal health and energy. As you learn the Vedic system and combine the related disciplines, you have a tremendous resource. (Frawley, 1999) In the modern world, you see these practices in integrative medicine. The body of research seems to be growing faster for yoga therapy, but both yoga and Ayurveda face difficulty. The challenge is in conducting randomized control trials because most of the treatments are individualized and targeted to the entire person. Future research may include looking at combining these integrative modalities and collect data with scientific rigor.

 

References

 

Frawley, D. (1999). Yoga & Ayurveda Self-Healing and Self-Realization. Twin Lakes, Wisconsin: Lotus Press.

 

Frawley, D., & Kozak, S. S. (2001). Yoga for your type: an Ayurvedic approach to your Asana practice. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus.

 

Lad, V. (2002). Textbook of Ayurveda. Albuquerque, NM: Ayurvedic Press.

 

Page, J. L., & Page, L. L. (2014). Mudras for Healing and Transformation (2nd ed.). Sebastopol, CA: Integrative Yoga Therapy.

Qureshi, N. A., & Al-Bedah, A. M. (2013). Mood disorders and complementary and alternative medicine: a literature review. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment9, 639–658. http://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S43419

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